By Tim Wood
It’s quite easy now to get information or conduct research on any subject through the internet. What is more difficult, it seems, is having the time (or making the time) to get accurate information.
But I’d like to shed some light on at least one subject: The apparent disconnect that exists between the Beaufort Historic District Review Board (HDRB) and the Historic Beaufort Foundation (HBF).
Since 1965, HBF’s mission statement has been, “HBF is a 501(c)3 not for profit educational foundation created to preserve, protect and present sites and artifacts of historic, architectural and cultural interest throughout Beaufort County, South Carolina. …” The posted HDRB mission is, “To aid in the preservation, protection and enhancement of the Beaufort National Historic Landmark District,” which is basically the blocks between Hamar and Carteret, Bay and Boundary.
You don’t need a teacher to tell you these mission statements are close to identical, except the HBF helps to promote historic preservation throughout the county.
Dick Stewart, founder and CEO of 303 Associates is a developer who has already made a huge impact on our town. To see his future plans, you can take a virtual tour of what his vision for the two block core of Beaufort’s historic downtown district (https://303associates.com).
In March, Stewart wrote a biting letter to the HBF, proudly posted at the bottom of 303 Associates “Projects” tab, criticizing the Foundation. Stewart’s letter followed by two days, an op-ed piece written by Maxine Lutz, former executive director of HBF. Taken together, these pieces seem to present a tale of two cities.
In my opinion, most of what 303 Associates has done for Beaufort (in general) has been for the good of the community, such as the Beaufort Town Center and Newcastle Square on Boundary Street and the Old Bay Marketplace. But in overall aesthetics for his latest proposals, particularly those located in the historic downtown core district, I think 303 Associates missed the mark.
What is surprising and disappointing to me is the apparent disconnect between our HDRB and the HBF. Here you have two entities that have “historic” in their names with extremely similar mission statements and yet conflict seems to be their main historical trait.
We presume both entities wish to maintain and augment continued historical integrity, along with growth, of not only our historical “district” but the entirety of our downtown and its’ surrounding neighborhoods. We believe the vast majority of our citizens want to live in an aesthetically pleasing place. So why are the HBF and the HDRB not working together to form that common bond?
One could argue that the HBF has a clear mission towards historical preservation and integrity and the HDRB is appointed by City council which makes them a political entity.
Whether or not our city government is pro-development, driven by socioeconomic forces, elitist leanings, anti-growth or a diverse combination of all these ideologies, the real effort now should be isolating how the HBF and HDRB can develop a more productive relationship with the ultimate goal of keeping our pride of place and our own, old “Beaufort Charm” within the onslaught of development.
After considerable discussion last year, the Council passed an ordinance confirming one seat on the five-member HDRB for the HBF. While city ordinances now say the HDRB will have on its board one advocate of the HBF, the city council has the final vote on that appointment, so it basically is still a political appointment.
I would advocate that this ordinance be amended to allow two seats to be filled on the HDRB (as well as on the city’s Design Review Board) with those seats endorsed by the HBF. In addition, I think the sitting chairperson from the HBF should have a vote in making those appointments, to both the HDBF and DRB. This would give some teeth to the hard and tedious work the HBF endeavors to do in the name of Beaufort’s history.
Historical preservation is no small deal. We are blessed to live in a beautiful city between two crown jewels of the country’s entire historical district protection plan, Charleston and Savannah. Both communities have tackled the complicated relationship between development and re-development inside national historical districts.
But as the National Park Service has said it’s taking a closer look at Beaufort’s National Register of Historic Places designation because of structural changes, and just recently the NPS has changed the status of Savannah historic district designation from “satisfactory” to “threatened.”
Historical Preservation is hard, diligent work. It makes good sense for Beaufortonians to connect the dots with our neighbors rich in historic heritage – Charleston and Savannah – rather than contributing to a gap between them.
For more information about Charleston and Savannah’s preservation efforts, read: https://www. nps.gov/articles/charleston-and-preservation.htm and https://apnews.com/ article/04ab3ecbe7034d84833b6026e7c73871.
Tim and Kristy Wood moved to Beaufort in 1974. He worked as a carpenter in both restoration and new home construction, as well as operating a shop specializing in custom woodwork, Wood on Wood Specs. He is semi-retired, involved with fine woodworking and sits on the City of Beaufort Zoning Board of Appeals.